Precautionary measures in place says economic affairs minister 

Safety: Following a rock slip (overburden) at the Punatsangchu Hydropower Project Authority (PHPA)-I dam axis on August 12, commuters have been raising safety concerns about the road above the dam on the Wangdue-Tsirang highway.

Sources said they are concerned as the slipping had occurred on the same road stretch, which had sunk in July 2013 following incessant rainfall. That sinking zone has caused the PHPA-I with huge costs and time extension, and for which the strengthening measures are still ongoing.

However, the project’s chairman and economic affairs minister, Lekey Dorji, said the overburden or rock slip on August 12 has occurred outside the dam axis, beyond the area where the strengthening measures have been put in place. Strengthening works for this section has been left to be carried out when the plunge pool is excavated, he said.

Lyonpo said that to avoid any risks to life and property PHPA-I has inserted poles on both sides of the road stretch as a precautionary measure. Cracks on the road have also been sealed to avoid seepage of rainwater into the overburden, he said.

The project’s management and experts have assured the ministry that the rock slip is not a significant concern. “PHPA management will ensure no disruption to highway traffic and is closely monitoring the issue and immediate remedial and strengthening measures are being implemented,” Lyonpo said.

He said that as of now, except for the PHPA-I dam site where strengthening measures are ongoing, other project activities are all progressing as per schedule. The head-race tunnel, a critical component has been completed since June 2015, and all other components are in advanced stages of completion.

Lyonpo dismissed claims by critics that PHPA-II has been on a standstill since July 2013. On the contrary, he said PHPA-II has been progressing as per schedule except for the downstream surge gallery incident of March 3, 2016.

An investigation of that incident is being carried out. Proposals for appropriate technical measures to strengthen the structure and complete the works is in progress.

He said that as of July 2016 the overall physical progress of PHPA-II was 71 percent and is on time to be completed in the second quarter of 2018.

PHPA-I is scheduled to be commissioned by July 2019 and based on the current status and progress, the first machine unit should be commissioned as scheduled, said Lyonpo.

“However, we need to be mindful of the unavoidable delays caused due to geological surprises and the works involved with the complex unseen underground projects of such magnitudes,” Lyonpo added.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue